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12-Stage Success Plan

The 12-Stage Success Plan is an on-the-job learning sequence that runs from 12 weeks to 12 months, depending on the complexity of problems they solve, the solutions our clients undertake, and the capabilities of the salesperson.

The basics of a good professional development plan start with a format based on experiential learning. Learning by doing is the most effective form of education. A good program should be hands-on, sequential in nature, and incorporate a learning process that builds in complexity as the salesperson's knowledge and confidence grow.

Effective learning should also include scheduled milestones, at least one for each stage, during which salespeople must demonstrate their proficiency before they can move ahead. (In our programs, new salespeople sign personal development agreements before they are hired acknowledging that failure to meet the milestones is grounds for termination.) One vital dimension of these milestones is the feedback the learner receives. Learners need to receive objective, consistent, and specific feedback. Oral and written reports and presentations, travel with best-practice performers, coaching sessions, and observation of prospect and customer interviews all offer the opportunity for many people in your company to be involved in the development process and create feedback loops to ensure and enhance the transfer of knowledge.

We must consider the decision to hire as singular and complete, based on the information available at the time of the decision. We must treat the decision to retain as a separate decision that will be based on new information received and observations made after the individual begins working with us. The point is, you can base your decision to retain on observed behavior long before you can see results in a transformative sale.

The key to the effectiveness of the 12-stage plan is that at each stage of learning, a measurable and objective proof of learning is to be achieved. We must not advance the learner unless and until that proof is received. It's no different than the 12 grades of elementary and secondary education. You don't advance the student to the next grade until they have given evidence of learning the content of their current grade. Passing them will not cause the learning to happen later. It more likely means they will have to perform, minus certain skills and knowledge for quite some time.

We talk about the stages of the development program in terms of the questions each is designed to answer in the learner's mind. Learners develop the answers to these questions through both internal and external sources. Internally, they use company data and information, as well as interviews and coaching sessions with fellow salespeople and colleagues from other functions within the company. Externally, they use industry and customer data, as well as interviews with prospective and existing customers.

We explore the 12 stages of a generic quick-start professional development program in the following paragraphs:

1. What Is Our Company All About?

Sales professionals need to know your company's history, the key people and positions, its market position, its value proposition, as well as the details of employment such as the compensation plan, expense policies, and so forth. The culminating milestone of this stage would be 2-, 5-, 10-, and 20-minute presentations (ideally video or, at least, audiorecorded) to colleagues or managers that demonstrate the new salesperson's ability to organize and present information and to give a clear picture of your company and its capabilities to a prospective customer.

2. Who Are the Customers We Serve?

In this stage, learners meet customers via the telephone and face-to-face appointments in the field. They learn who buys from your company and, more importantly, why they buy, how they perceive your company, and how satisfied they have been with the value created by your company. We want our sales professionals to learn how our customers think, how they see their businesses, what issues they face, and what market trends they see. The milestone is the salesperson's ability to create external and internal profiles for use in qualifying potential business.

3. How Do We Develop New Business?

After salespeople learn to prepare customer profiles, they need to understand the opportunity management process. In this stage, they establish an opportunity management system that enables them to coordinate their activities and set priorities. They create a plan for time and territory management based on the optimal ratio of lead types. The milestone is an internal presentation of the plan, which targets and qualifies a preagreed number of business opportunities.

4. What Is Our Diagnostic Engagement Protocol?

In this stage, salespeople learn the basics of building a diagnostic engagement strategy from a prospect's profile. The diagnostic prospecting and qualifying protocol is the engagement strategy for a prospective customer. It details the Discovery process, the cast of characters, the areas to be diagnosed, the best kinds of questions for finding the answers needed, and the diagnostic process the salesperson will complete. The milestone is an internal, simulated exercise in which the salesperson prepares and engages in a typical first call and other strategic diagnostic situations.

5. What Is Your Personal Business Plan?

In this stage, salespeople develop an initial version of an individualized business plan that includes their financial goals and specifies the quality and quantity of activities required to achieve those goals and the internal/external resources needed to help support those goals. As described in Chapter 4, a personal business plan is a subset of the regional, national, and corporate business plans. The milestone is a review of the proposed plan and, on approval, the commitment to meet those goals.

6. What Are Our Solutions?

Product and service training does not appear until the middle of the program to ensure that salespeople understand customers and the problems those customers face before they begin to learn about the solutions you offer. In this stage, salespeople learn much more than the technical features and benefits of your offerings. They learn how to diagnose the indicators present in the absence of those features and specific departments and job responsibilities in the customer's business in which to look for them. They also learn how to connect solutions to customers' business drivers. The milestone is a presentation along with an internal role-playing simulation in which the salesperson moves from problem diagnosis to solution design. Periodic audio/videotaping of the salesperson's presentations allows for self-critique and provides auditory/visual baselines of performance.

7. Can You Now Develop Business?

During this stage, salespeople begin applying their knowledge in the field. They prepare for and initiate new engagements, set qualified diagnostic appointments, and follow up on leads received. They remain closely supervised and are coached as necessary. The milestone is the ability to "get invited in" by new customers and initiate a constructive engagement.

8. Can You Diagnose the Customer's Situation?

In this stage, salespeople conduct customer calls with an observer. They plan account strategy and prepare for and conduct diagnostic calls. At the conclusion of each call, they receive immediate feedback from their observer and incorporate new learning as it occurs. Milestones are the ability to diagnose symptoms and causes of problems, as well as establish a mutual understanding of the diagnosis with various individuals in the customer's cast of characters.

9. Can You Determine the Cost of the Problem?

In this stage, salespeople extend the work of diagnosis to the establishment of problem consequences and the calculation of the problem's financial impact. Salespeople demonstrate their understanding of the three elements of total cost (direct, indirect, and lost opportunity) and the formulas of cost calculation to sales managers, and then in the field with customers. An observer offers feedback at the conclusion of each call, and the milestone is the proven ability to move an engagement into the Design phase.

10. Are You Perceived as a Creative Problem Solver By Your Customers?

In this stage, salespeople learn and demonstrate the skills of solution design. They link and discuss solution options in terms of the problem, its total cost, the client's expectations for change, and the investment customers are willing to make to achieve their expected outcomes. This knowledge is acquired first in internal interviews, classes, and role plays. Then, an internal presentation is made, and, finally, the knowledge is demonstrated during supervised calls on customers. The milestone is the ability to help the customer establish desired outcomes, create an optimal solution, and align selection criteria with the solution that will be proposed.

11. Can You Propose an Effective Solution?

In this stage, salespeople learn and demonstrate their ability to translate the customer's expectations into a compelling solution. They create a discussion document, gain confirmation, and translate that discussion document into a formal proposal. Again, the learning is conducted in workshops, internal interviews, and in the field with an observer who offers immediate feedback. The milestone is the demonstrated ability to produce a balanced, comprehensive proposal.

12. Can You Effectively Present a Proposal?

The final stage of a quick-start training program is demonstrating the knowledge required to review the proposal with the customer and complete the customer's decision process. Again, workshops, internal interviews, role plays, and supervised calls are used until the salesperson has demonstrated the ability to successfully write new business. The milestone is the concluded sale.

A quick-start training program should conclude with the salesperson's revision of the individual business plan. This plan should now cover the next two quarters and include business and professional development goals; market, territory, and key customer analyses; targeted prospects; performance metrics; and resources needed to help achieve the goals. It should be a formal document agreed to by the salesperson and management. This business plan serves asa basis for performance monitoring, coaching, and review. These reviews should be conducted on a regular basis, weekly at first, and as the quality of the salesperson's performance improves, biweekly, then monthly, and, eventually, once per quarter. Before each review, the salesperson should write a short (one- to two-page) summary of what's working, what's not working, and what needs to be changed, if anything, to stay on goal. By having to do a self-analysis before meeting with the sales manager, development of self-management skills of the sales professional continues.

The topics covered herein concern solution sales, consultative sales, and consultative selling.

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